[Originally published in Movietone News 62-63, December 1979]
Paul Schrader’s concept for Hardcore strikes me as a great idea for a movie. But he has overwritten it so shamelessly and directed it so hamhandedly that the result is a shambles. Much of Hardcore is handled so ineptly I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Long before the moment (which should have been a shattering one) when religious conservative businessman Jake VanDorn finally discovers his runaway daughter after a nightmarish search through the underworld of the pornography industry, only to learn that his little girl enjoys the decadent world she’s run away to, we know what’s coming and it arrives with little more than a hohum. After going through what Schrader surely views as a hellâ€”like the hell of New York in Taxi Driver or the hell of guilt and truth in Obsessionâ€”the two speak to each other in platitudes, with flabby, clichÃ© explications of character. Schrader’s problems in building to and sustaining a climax are most evident in the one scene that is still a tooth-grinder. But the what-are-we-going-to-see? frisson when the projector starts running for three $100-a-seat customers in a whorehouse back room quickly fades when the viewing of the “snuff” filmâ€”a Sadean assertion that pain and death are the ultimate pornographyâ€”is a short, fake, flaccid emotional experience, not the searing climax it should have been.